Reading of the Week: Suicide and Schizophrenia – Across Life Span; Also, Transgender-Inclusive Care (QT), and the NYT on Chatbots

From the Editor

This week, we have three selections.

In the first, we consider suicide and schizophrenia. In a new JAMA Psychiatry paper, Dr. Mark Olfson (of Columbia University) and his co-authors do a cohort study across life-span, tapping a massive database. They find: “the risk of suicide was higher compared with the general US population and was highest among those aged 18 to 34 years and lowest among those 65 years and older.” The authors see clear clinical implications: “These findings suggest that suicide prevention efforts for individuals with schizophrenia should include a focus on younger adults with suicidal symptoms and substance use disorders.”

In the second selection, we consider transgender-inclusive care, looking at a new Quick Takes podcast. Drs. June Lam and Alex Abramovich (both of the University of Toronto) comment on caring for members of this population. “Trans individuals are medically underserved and experience, poor mental health outcomes, high rates of disease burden – compared to cisgender individuals.”

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Finally, in our third selection from The New York Times, reporter Karen Brown writes about chatbots for psychotherapy, focusing on Woebot. The writer quotes psychologist Alison Darcy about the potential of these conversational agents: “If we can deliver some of the things that the human can deliver, then we actually can create something that’s truly scalable, that has the capability to reduce the incidence of suffering in the population.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Suicide and Gender in Canada; Also, Access and Immigrants (CJP), and Chok on Variations on a Theme (CMAJ)

From the Editor

This week, we have three selections; all are from Canadian publications.

Suicide rates have been declining in this country. In the first selection, Sara Zulyniak (of the University of Calgary) and her co-authors look at suicide by age and gender, drawing on almost two decades’ worth of data. In their analysis, there is a surprising finding: “The suicide rates in females aged 10 to 19 and 20 to 29 were increasing between 2000 and 2018. In comparison, no male regression results indicated significantly increasing rates.” This research letter, just published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, is short and relevant.

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In the second selection, also from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Joanna Marie B. Rivera (of Simon Fraser University) and her co-authors consider access to care. They focus on immigrants and nonimmigrants, noting differences in the way care is provided for those with mood disorders. “People with access to team-based primary care are more likely to report mental health consultations, and this is especially true for immigrants. Unfortunately, immigrants, and especially recent immigrants, are more likely to see a doctor in solo practice or use walk-in clinics as a usual place of care.”

Finally, in our third selection from CMAJ, Dr. Rozalyn Chok (of the University of Alberta), a pianist who is now a resident of paediatrics, describes a performance at a mental hospital. “I still hear exactly how it sounded on that tinny upright piano. I feel the uneven weighting of the keys, remember how difficult it was to achieve the voicing – the balance of melody and harmony – I wanted.” She reflects on the piece she played, and its impact on a patient.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Zen vs Zoloft for Relapse Prevention – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Grossman-Kahn on Her Patient’s Cause (NEJM)

From the Editor

He feels better and he wants to go off medications, what should you recommend?

Patients raise this question often in depression management. For some, antidepressants are rich in side effects; others simply dislike the idea of long-term medications. For years, the response was simple: outline the risks of going off medications. Depression guidelines, after all, mention the need for continued antidepressants, especially for those who have had multiple past episodes. But, more recently, several papers have suggested that certain psychotherapies reduce the risk of relapse and can rival antidepressants.

But, until now, there hasn’t been a good meta-analysis. This week, in our first selection, we consider a new JAMA Psychiatry paper. Josefien J. F. Breedvelt (of the University of Amsterdam) and co-authors do an individual data meta-analysis comparing antidepressants and psychotherapies for relapse prevention – Zen versus Zoloft, if you will. They write: “The sequential delivery of a psychological intervention during and/or after tapering may be an effective relapse prevention strategy instead of long-term use of antidepressants.” We consider the big paper and its clinical implications.

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And in the second selection, Dr. Rebecca Grossman-Kahn (of the University of Minnesota) writes about a patient encounter in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. Noting his manic episode, she wonders about larger questions, including diagnosis and coercion. This resident of psychiatry writes: “Training has taught me to recognize the signs of mania and psychosis. But nothing prepared me to ask courageous protesters to put their crucial work for change on hold due to mental illness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Helping Healthcare Workers Seek Help; Also, Smoking Cessation for Inpatients & Priebe on Why Patients Should Be Called Patients

From the Editor

How do we connect with them?

With the worst of the third wave now behind us, we are beginning to look forward. But for some, the problems of the pandemic aren’t fading. They will continue to struggle with mental health problems.

Healthcare workers are particularly at risk. They are also, collectively, a group that is difficult to engage. In the first selection, we look at a new paper from The British Journal of Psychiatry. Dr. Doron Amsalem (of Columbia University) and his co-authors do a video intervention to increase treatment seeking. The resulting RCT is impressive. The authors write: “The high proportion of healthcare workers surveyed in this study who reported symptoms of probable generalised anxiety, depression and/or PTSD emphasises the need for intervention aimed at increasing treatment-seeking among US healthcare workers. A three-minute online social contact-based video intervention effectively increased self-reported treatment-seeking intentions among healthcare workers.”

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In the second selection, Richard A. Brown (of the University of Texas at Austin) and his co-authors look at a new approach to an old problem: high smoking rates among people with severe mental illness. Focusing on inpatient hospitalizations, they design an intervention built on motivational interviewing. We consider their JAMA Psychiatry paper.

Is the term patient antiquated? Should we use other terms, like client or service user? In a BJPsych Bulletin paper, Dr. Stefan Priebe (of Queen Mary University of London) argues that we serve patients – and that words matter. “Mental healthcare is based on shared values and scientific evidence. Both require precise thinking, and precise thinking requires an exact and consistent terminology.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: How Has Mental Health Changed Over COVID? Also, Goldbloom on Practice & the Pandemic (Globe) and a Reader Responds to Psilocybin

From the Editor

Even our language has changed. Last winter, we didn’t think about lockdowns and the term social distancing was confined to sociology textbooks. The world is different.

And in our new reality, we can ask: How has the pandemic affected mental health? While there have been many small surveys (and much speculation), until now we have lacked a major, large scale survey.

This week, we look at a new paper from The Lancet Psychiatry. Matthias Pierce (of the University of Manchester) and his co-authors draw on the UK Household Longitudinal Study – a large, national survey that offers us pandemic and pre-pandemic data. The good news: “Between April and October 2020, the mental health of most UK adults remained resilient or returned to pre-pandemic levels…” but they also found that one in nine people in the UK “had deteriorating or consistently poor mental health.” We consider the big study and discuss resilience with an essay by Dr. Richard A. Friedman (of Cornell University).

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In the second selection, we consider an essay by Dr. David Goldbloom (of the University of Toronto) on how the pandemic has changed psychiatry. He focuses on the biggest change: that is, the embrace of virtual care. He begins: “We are all telepsychiatrists now…” He notes the advantages and disadvantages of the transformation. While some providers express ambivalence, he writes: “What counts, ultimately, is what helps our patients.”

Finally, a reader responds to our take on The New England Journal of Medicine paper on psilocybin. Dr. Craig P. Stewart (of Western University) writes: “One area I did not see mentioned in the psilocybin paper review was a discussion of confirmation bias, which I believe also should be mentioned to contextualize the results.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: How Will Venture Capital Change Psychiatry? Also, Gambling in Canada (CJP) and Dr. Bagley on Her Anxiety (JAMA)

From the Editor

Recently, one of patients raved about an app that she started to use. Talkspace offers her access to psychotherapy, unbound by geography, with a variety of therapist options.

The catch: she’s paying for it. In her opinion, it’s a good investment in her mental health. In Wall Street’s opinion, it’s a good investment in their financial health: that app has raised more than $110 million (USD) in venture capital. Other popular apps have also caught the eye and the backing of Wall Street – think Calm ($144 million USD) and Headspace ($167 million USD).

Is venture capital changing mental health care? And what are the potential problems? In the first selection, we consider a new Viewpoint paper by Drs. Ravi N. Shah (of Columbia University) and Obianuju O. Berry (of New York University). They write: “Although the value of this trend is yet to be fully realized, the rise in venture capital investment in mental health care offers an opportunity to scale treatments that work and address mental illness at the population level. However, quality control, privacy concerns, and severe mental illness are major issues that need to be addressed.”

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In our second selection, we look at a new paper by Robert J. Williams (of the University of Lethbridge) and his co-authors on gambling and problem gambling in Canada. Drawing on survey data, they find a surprising result: “Gambling and problem gambling have both decreased in Canada from 2002 to 2018 although the provincial patterns are quite similar between the 2 time periods.”

Finally, in our third selection, Dr. Sarah M. Bagley (of Boston University) discusses the problems of a newborn baby and its impact on his mother. The pediatrician isn’t writing about anyone – she is writing about her own experiences, and the resulting anxiety she experienced. “My story continues, but I hope that by sharing the issue of postpartum health can be better addressed among my colleagues and patients.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Psilocybin for Depression – The New NEJM Paper

From the Editor

Is this the breakthrough we have been waiting for?

This week, we look at the new study from The New England Journal of Medicine considering psilocybin (a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in some mushrooms) and escitalopram for depression. The paper, written by Robin Carhart-Harris (of Imperial College) and his co-authors, has received much attention. One online news source quipped: “Tripping may be as effective as your antidepressants.”

In this study, psilocybin was compared to the SSRI with a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Carhart-Harris et al. find: “On the basis of the change in depression scores on the QIDS-SR-16 at week 6, this trial did not show a significant difference in antidepressant effects between psilocybin and escitalopram in a selected group of patients.”

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We consider the paper and the editorial that runs with it by Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman (of Columbia University). We also ask Dr. Ishrat Husain (of the University of Toronto) for his thoughts. Finally, we mention other cutting-edge treatments.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Aromatherapy for Insomnia? Also, Ramadan and Mental Health and Responding to Vaccine History

From the Editor

“Sleep is one of the indispensable needs of human beings and is essential for maintaining physical and mental health.”

So writes Yueheng Tang (of the Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and co-authors in a new paper on insomnia. That topic is always relevant; with a third wave and the ongoing stresses of the pandemic, more people than ever seem to be struggling with insomnia. In the past few weeks, I’ve received a flurry of questions from patients and non-patients about remedies for insomnia.

What to make of aromatherapy? It’s trendy – but is it evidence based? In a new paper for the Journal of Affective Disorders, Tang et al. consider aromatherapy which “has a long history in China, and it has been used to strengthen the body and treat diseases since ancient times.” They conduct a meta-analysis, drawing on sixteen articles. They find: “Aromatherapy has a significant effect on improving sleep quality.” We consider the paper and ask: should we recommend this to our patients?

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In the second selection, we look at a new podcast that explores Ramadan and its clinical implications. In this Quick Takes episode, I’m joined by Drs. Juveria Zaheer and Zainab Furqan (both of the University of Toronto). They discuss fasting, mental disorders, and offer some suggestions. For example, with drug regiments: “if a medication is dosed twice daily, we can ask if it can be given safely during the interval when the interval between doses is shortened? So can we give it then in the evening or at dawn and then at sunset again? Or can we give it as one dose? And we need to think about the side effects of the medication.”

Finally, in our third selection, a reader writes us. Dr. Suze G. Berkhout (of the University of Toronto) responds to the paper by Drs. Angela Desmond and Paul A. Offit considering the history of vaccines. “The story the authors tell is history as it is written by the victors: emphasizing the hard work and successes of scientists, while failing to acknowledge the ways in which vaccine technologies have also been part of an exclusionary politics of biomedicine.”

Note that there will be no Reading next week.

DG

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Reading of the Week: A Therapy for Pandemic Loneliness? Also, Getting Digital Psychiatry Right (Lancet Psych) and the History of Vaccines (NEJM)

From the Editor

I saw an older patient in the emergency room recently. He described feeling overwhelmed. Fearful of the pandemic, he explained that he had rarely left his apartment since it began. “I’m so isolated.”

Many find themselves in a similar situation. What could help? In a new JAMA Psychiatry paper, Maninder K. Kahlon (of The University of Texas at Austin) and co-authors describe a focused intervention involving laypeople doing an empathy-focused program by phone. Do the calls work? They found it reduced loneliness, anxiety, and depression. They note the potential: “The use of lay callers, deliberate but brief approach on training, and the use of ubiquitous telephones made the approach easily deployable and scalable.”

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In an editorial, The Lancet Psychiatry considers our digital moment. Though they note the trendiness of the idea of digital psychiatry, they urge us to push: “Come 2 years or 20, we want to stop talking about digital psychiatry’s potential for improving public mental health and start marking its clear clinical progress.”

Finally, in our third selection, we look at a new paper from The New England Journal of Medicine. Drs. Angela Desmond and Paul A. Offit (both of the University of Pennsylvania) consider the history of vaccines, and look ahead: “With the recent authorization of mRNA vaccines, we have entered the fifth era of vaccinology.”

Please note that there will be no Reading next week.

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On a pivot –

Since 2014, the Reading of the Week has been providing summaries and commentary on the latest in the psychiatric literature. Two years ago, we conducted a short survey to get your feedback. We are hoping to get feedback again to improve the Readings.

We would like to invite you to join one of our online focus groups to hear your opinions and suggestions. If you are interested in participating, please email smit.mistry@camh.ca by April 12 with your preferred time slots from the following options – psychiatrists: April 21 at 4 pm or April 22 at 4 pm; residents: April 28 at 4 pm and April 29 at 4 pm. (Note: all times are in EST.) Time commitment: under an hour. If the above time slots do not work for you, please email Smit to arrange an interview time at your convenience, preferably between April 21 and April 30, 2021.

DG

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Reading of the Week: The Resident’s Suicide – a New Paper from NEJM; Also, Help Seeking in Medical Education (JAMA Int Med)

From the Editor

“Bobby became my intern, and I was his senior resident. It was a role I cherished, and I tried to teach him all I could about caring for multiple sick patients simultaneously and navigating the systems, personalities, and politics of a large Manhattan hospital.”

Dr. Richard E. Leiter (of Harvard University) writes these words in a New England Journal of Medicine paper, this week’s first selection. He discusses loss – specifically, the death by suicide of the junior resident he was working with. On Twitter, Dr. Leiter commented that it took him six years to write about this death. Reading over the paper, we can understand why; the essay is deeply personal and moving. It also seeks to be constructive: Dr. Leiter calls for change. “Seeking to improve the lives of others shouldn’t cost our trainees their own.”

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Of course, the NEJM article isn’t just about Bobby; it touches on the culture of medicine. Suicide, while always tragic, is rare in health care; untreated depression and substance problems are too common. In the second selection this week, we consider a paper recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Dr. Erene Stergiopoulos (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors note the mixed message of medical education: at once encouraging “wellness” but also criticizing time away. “Stigma surrounding depression is deeply embedded in medicine.” Importantly, Dr. Stergiopoulos and her co-authors makes three practical suggestions.

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On a pivot –

Since 2014, the Reading of the Week (ROTW) has been providing summaries and commentary on the latest in the psychiatric literature. Two years ago, we conducted a short survey to get your feedback. We are hoping to get more feedback to improve the Readings further.

We would invite you to join one of our online focus groups to hear your opinions and suggestions for improvement. If you are interested in participating, please email smit.mistry@camh.ca by April 12 with your preferred time slots from the following options – psychiatrists: April 21 at 4 pm or April 22 at 4 pm; residents: April 28 at 4 pm and April 29 at 4 pm. (Note: all times are in EST.) Time commitment: under an hour. If the above time slots do not work for you, please email Smit to arrange an interview time at your convenience, ideally between April 21 and April 30, 2021.

DG

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